Tim Benz: This won't be typical Steelers-Chiefs matchup
In recent seasons, you could count on a few things when the Pittsburgh Steelers played the Kansas Chiefs.
• The games would be close.
• There would be offense but not a lot of points.
• Le’Veon Bell would have a huge day.
• James Harrison would come up with a big sack late.
• The Steelers would win.
That would be the formula. But Bell isn’t with the team. Harrison is retired. The Chiefs offense is more open with a young, big-armed quarterback. And neither defense may be able to keep the opposing offense in check despite Andy Reid’s play-calling proclivities or the Steelers’ red-zone problems against the Chiefs in years past. So here are some ways Steelers-Chiefs may play out differently in 2018.
Patrick Mahomes is no Alex Smith : Smith was a decent quarterback in Kansas City. But his “slow and steady wins the race” approach rarely actually won the races when playing Pittsburgh.
Smith has lost to the Steelers four times in five tries since 2014. He topped 300 yards passing just once in those efforts. Throughout his tenure in Kansas City, Smith was regarded as a smart, mobile, efficient game manager.
Maybe that’s because coach Andy Reid didn’t want him to do more. Maybe that’s because that is what Smith was comfortable doing. But that’s not what Mahomes was drafted to be when he was selected 10th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft.
He has a bigger arm. He’ll take more chances. He can move but doesn’t rely on his legs. In his first start, Mahomes looked at home on the stage, beating the Chargers, 38-28, in Week 1. The Texas Tech product was 15 of 27 for 256 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
“The preseason game, the game they just played, they are trying to stretch the field with him,” Steelers cornerback Artie Burns said. “He’s been doing a good job. They may be able to attack us one way with Mahomes instead of a different way with Alex.”
Tyreek Hill isn’t just a gadget guy anymore: Initially perceived as a great return, utility and trick-play weapon, Hill is emerging as Kansas City’s top receiver.
He certainly was on Sunday against the Chargers, catching seven passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns. The thinking is that with Mahomes’ bigger arm, Hill will be incorporated into the game plan more often. He also had a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown to the house against Los Angeles.
The Steelers have yet to be significantly hurt by Hill. He’s totaled just 85 yards receiving over three games.
“(Yards after catch) is going to be a big point of emphasis for us this week,” Steelers safety Sean Davis said. “Tackle the catch. As a defense, we do a good job of minimizing their special talents. The guys we know that are problem makers.”
It’ll likely be more high scoring. Davis is right. Despite having Pro Bowl weapons such as Hill, Kareem Hunt and Travis Kelce over the years, the Steelers and Chiefs rarely have gotten into shootouts. That’s even with the Steelers having the Killer B’s on one sideline.
Over the five games in the Ben-Brown-Bell era, four of them have been low scoring. The scores of the games have been:
• Steelers 19, Chiefs 13
• Steelers 18, Chiefs 16
• Chiefs 23, Steelers 12
• Steelers 20, Chiefs 12
Expect that to change this week.
No Bell or Harrison: You may not have missed Bell last week against the Cleveland Browns. You might this week against the Chiefs. James Conner could play well against Kansas City after getting 135 yards against Cleveland. But that’s the same amount of yards Bell has averaged in his five games against the Chiefs.
The Steelers running back racked up 677 yards in those contests.
As for the absence of Harrison, that’ll make Chiefs fans very happy. He registered clutch sacks in each of the last two games and forced an important hold against Eric Fisher in the fourth quarter of the 2016 playoff game.
Where’s Kelce?: The emergence of Hill and the desire of Mahomes to open up the offense may lead to less of an emphasis on Kelce as the tight end. He caught just one pass in Week 1.
But Steelers coach Mike Tomlin isn’t sleeping on his impact this week.
“He didn’t get a lot of touches last week. I don’t think that’s reflective of his role within this year’s group,” Tomlin said. “As a matter of fact, I imagine that’ll intensify his exposure to us this week.”
Surprisingly, Kelce hasn’t hurt the Steelers very much during his career. The Pro Bowler is averaging only 48.2 yards per game against the Steelers with one touchdown.
No “D” in K.C.: The Kansas City defense has gone from second in the league in points allowed in 2014, to third in 2015, to seventh in 2016, to 15th in 2017.
This year, they opened 2018 by allowing 28 and 514 yards to the Chargers.
If the Steelers can’t score against them, it may be a long season.
Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @TimBenzPGH. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.